Amid Uncertain Economy, Finance Expertise Tops the List of Most In-Demand Skills for 2023

A new report from Business Talent Group says that the talent shortage is proving costly for many companies. Finance, operational excellence initiatives, and the adoption of AI are all showing significant skill needs. Innovative solutions, such as high-end independent talent marketplaces, are helping businesses rise to the challenge.

September 25, 2023 – Companies find themselves in a unique position in today’s dynamic and ever-changing business landscape. While fears of an economic downturn have lingered through much of 2023, a significant recession has yet to materialize, and there is now serious debate among economists on whether we’re likely to enter one anytime soon.

Amid these uncertain times, leading companies are seeking innovative strategies and solutions to address both the challenges of the present and seize growth opportunities for the future, according to a new report from Business Talent Group (BTG), Heidrick & Struggles company. “Increasingly, they’re relying on independent, on-demand talent marketplaces that have become a key piece of human capital infrastructure—offering safe, flexible, and cost-effective access to the specialized skills and expertise needed to thrive in the complex business environment,” the study said.

With more than three-quarters (77 percent) of employers having difficulty finding skilled talent, the struggle to fill organizational gaps has significant financial implications, according to BTG. The study shows significant skill needs in the finance function, for operational excellence initiatives across the board, and for the adoption of AI. Fifty percent of CEOs and CFOs anticipate their organizations will struggle to meet customer demand with their current talent models. This, says the report, has paved the way for innovative solutions, such as high-end independent talent marketplaces, which can help equip organizations with the skills and talent they need to succeed now and in the future.

“The skills landscape is evolving at a breakneck pace and can have a pronounced impact on an organization’s ability to remain competitive and profitable,” said Sandra Pinnavaia, BTG’s EVP, chief knowledge and innovation officer. “Organizations are currently working to keep up with the pace of technological and innovative change, all while navigating a shifting labor market and economic uncertainty.”

“These equally important yet competing priorities call for a wide range of skill-sets—and today’s business leaders will need to embrace creativity and agility in sourcing them,” Ms. Pinnavaia said.

Demand for Finance Expertise

As companies cautiously await economic clarity, Business Talent Group found that they are taking proactive steps to ensure financial stability and effective leadership. Reflecting the changing demands placed upon finance departments, businesses are tapping into the expertise of on-demand finance professionals—with financial controls, accounting, and audit (No. 1 / +94 percent) and financial planning, analysis, and modeling (No. 3) climbing to the top of the most in-demand skills list amid a 71 percent increase in the number of requests for interim finance executives. “Whether they’re getting finances in order, providing interim leadership, or helping the function adapt to growing complexity, on-demand talent are proving instrumental in fortifying companies’ financial resilience,” the report said

Related: 5 Communication Skills Found in Top Leaders

Operational transformation has become a focal point for many companies as they seek to streamline processes and enhance efficiency, according the report. In this pursuit, on-demand talent offers a wealth of experience and fresh insights in disciplines such as organizational design and workforce planning (No. 5), operational excellence (No. 9), supply chain (No. 10), and organizational transformation (No.13). They’re also meeting rapidly rising needs for skills such as Lean, Six Sigma, and total quality management (+300 percent) and manufacturing strategy (+150 percent). Even in industries requiring deep specialization like life science and healthcare, on-demand talent are helping with critical areas such as clinical operations (+67 percent)—reflecting the targeted experience on-demand talent can bring to help clients achieve sustainability and adaptability in an unpredictable landscape.

Embracing AI, Data, and Advanced Technologies

Rapid technology advancements like generative AI present both challenges and unprecedented opportunities for top companies, according to the BTG report. To navigate the quickly developing technology terrain, business leaders are seeking guidance from on-demand talent skilled in technology and systems implementation (No. 6), artificial intelligence and machine learning (+100 percent), and data science (+100 percent). “These specialized professionals help businesses seize the potential offered by advanced technologies and position themselves at the forefront of innovation,” the report said. “As companies embrace digital transformation, on-demand talent becomes a crucial catalyst for their success in a tech-driven world.”

Business Talent Group offered four key ways to leverage on-demand talent with AI.

1. AI Assessment and Strategy. Tap business strategists and tech experts to assess AI opportunities for your organization, craft an AI strategy, and create a practical roadmap for experimentation and beyond.

2. Data Foundation Development. Access data scientists and advanced analytics consultants to refine your data strategies, data processes, data organization, data quality, and data security to capture the most value from AI.

6 Critical Skills for Senior Leaders
The most important factor for team success is cultivating a psychologically safe work environment where everyone feels comfortable showing up as their authentic selves. This means practicing the C-suite skills that matter most to enhance and improve your workplace culture. So how do we get there? For decades, “soft skills” weren’t considered essential for leaders to climb the ranks.  But as we’ve moved through seemingly endless clouds of uncertainty over the past few years, there has been a dramatic shift in perspectives and approaches to work and in the fundamental skills executives need for success, says consulting and services firm Nubrick Partners in a new report.

3. Digital Transformation. Get help from trained management consultants, project managers, and change managers skilled at leading critical transformations and helping clients navigate disruptive change.

4. Interim Leadership. Engage an interim AI, data, digital, or tech leader with experience overseeing the strategic direction of technology, data, and IT functions at an enterprise scale.

Big, Bold Moves by Some

Counter to the caution expressed by many, Business Talent Group says that some business leaders are seizing this moment to blaze a path forward. To facilitate these endeavors, they’re turning to on-demand talent for vital support with growth strategy (No. 4), post-merger integration (No. 12), divestitures and spinouts (+200 percent), and turnaround and restructuring (+100 percent). Business Talent Group notes that offering expertise and agility to execute complex transactions and organizational strategies, on-demand talent are playing a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of business expansion and transformation

Top 10 most in-demand skills for 2023 include:

1. Financial controls, accounting, and audit.

2. Project management.

3. Financial planning, analysis, and modeling.

4. Growth strategy.

5. Organizational design and workforce planning.

6. Technology and systems implementation.

7. Market access and value.

8. Strategic planning.

9. Operational excellence.

10. Supply chain.

Top 10 fastest growing skills for 2023 include:

1. Lean/six sigma/total quality management. +300 percent

2. Divestitures and spinouts. +200 percent

3. Program management office (PMO). +156 %

4. Manufacturing strategy. +150 percent

5. Risk management. +150 percent

6. Artificial intelligence and machine learning. +100 percent

7. Data science. +100 percent

8. Turnaround and restructuring. +100 percent

9. Treasury. +100 percent

10. Channel management. +100 percent

Related: Essential Leadership Skills For A “Work Anywhere Anytime” World  

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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